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In Omsk, Siberia, elderly women in the town’s Lutheran church use old German- language hymnals. Text printed on the hymnal’s title page reads: “For the Ger- man evangelical colonies on the Volga.”


Lutheran pastor Zhanibek Batenov is a native Kazakh serv- ing in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. He is one of 10 sala- ried Lutheran pastors, serving 52 congregations with an active membership of 2,000 in a country four times the size of Texas.


Kazakhstan’s capital. “The only alternative left is growth.”


Until 1990 his country had nearly 1 million ethnic Germans, two-thirds of whom were Lutheran. Thanks to emigration, that total has shriveled to 150,000. Yuri Novgorodov, Lutheran bishop of Kazakhstan, tries twice a year to visit all 52 of the church’s congrega- tions. He recently spent eight days driving 2,400 miles to visit five congregations. With few airports and poor roads, he may traverse more potholes per year than any other Lutheran pastor in the world. Yet he feels encouraged in his work. “One always notices that one is needed; that people have been waiting when one shows up,” he said. “That gives me a great deal of strength. I know all of the congregations and they know me.” Elsewhere in Central Asia, Lutherans are even more sparsely distributed. The Lutheran World Federation lists 17 congregations and 1,000 members in Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan (home to 45 percent of the population of Cen- tral Asia) has 500 Lutherans in three congregations. Tiny remnants remain in Tadjikistan and Turkmenistan, where there are no registered Lutheran bodies and the leadership may be the most repressive of the five Muslim-majority governments in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan).


Although all five Central Asia governments claim to be secular and committed to combating Islamic extremist groups, some church leaders feel the laws keep Protes- tants in the line of fire. For example, in Turkmenistan, reli- gious books without the stamp and signature of a Muslim imam or an Orthodox priest are considered illegal. And tough new Kazakh laws introduced in Novem-


ber 2011 decree that only congregations of more than 50 members may reregister as religious communities. In Kazakhstan, the ruling affects 200 Lutheran congrega- tions—a bureaucratic nightmare, Novgorodov said. “How can small congregations registered for decades suddenly become illegal retroactively?” he asked. “Are we sup- posed to keep them from praying?”


The bishop hopes to overcome the hurdle by combin- ing smaller congregations into larger, multiple-point ones. But still, relations with Kazakhstan’s government are normal, Novgorodov said. “Sometimes we quarrel with each other, but that’s all a part of life,” he said, adding that Lutherans only invite people “in general” to accept the gospel.


Batenov, the child of Muslim parents, added: “We’d have problems with the government if we did [proselytize to] Muslims.”


Kazakhstan is a fairly secular country where an impres- sive Roman Catholic cathedral has just been built in the rundown coal town of Karaganda, Baptist-run social min- istries are booming, and Lutheran ministries reach out to orphaned children and senior citizens. Lutherans intend to concentrate on the 30 percent of Kazakhstan’s population that is non-Muslim, Batenov said. “The gospel of Christ will forge its own way if it is preached in a pure and resolute fashion,” he added. 


August 2013 35


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